The inventor of a steam floor cleaner for Asian homes that was inspired by her own dread of the chore, Haan mortgaged her own home in 1999 to manufacture and market it. Today she is the founder and CEO of Haan Corp., which had $120 million in revenue in 2010. The firm produces a range of largely steam-based household appliances and is branching out into kitchenware and beauty products. This mother of 2 stays svelte by regularly doing 108 Buddhist prostrations in 15 minutes. After retirement she plans to push a Korean maternity exercise that, she claims, helps mothers deliver quickly with minimal labor.
Romi Haan: When I came up with this idea of a steam cleaner I thought it would be something, you know, a piece of cake. In this era of rocket science, you know, how difficult would it be to come up with an appliance, right? I was advised that it would take, like, $50,000 and six months. I mortgaged my house for $100,000, thinking, "Oh, I’ll spend $50,000 to develop the product and then another $50,000 to run the operation." Actually, it turned out to be that I spent all of my $100,000 and still didn’t have anything in my hand.
My assessment of risk at the time was practically zero. All I could think of is how people would just love my product and they would just stand in line to buy my product as soon as it comes out. But it turned out it’s completely the opposite. It was just impossible to let anybody know of the product and to sell it. It’s part of my personality, probably, that I never give up. I tend to be stubborn. When I make up my mind, I go to the end. And it didn’t even come to my mind that I would stop until I got out on the street.
One of the advices that I give to people who start their own business is to be well-prepared. And one of the preparations that I always suggest is to get into the industry that you’re trying to start your own business in at least for two years before your own. I just started my business as soon as I had the idea, and I don’t want people to make the same mistakes. I think it’s very important that you spend enough time in the same industry, to learn the industry, how things work, and to be able to sell the products.
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd
Women have at least 50 percent of buying power in households and I think it’s natural and essential that businesses have women on their boards.